At the time I wrote this, even being forty didn’t seem something I needed to identify with: all the other stuff seemed far, far away. So not too many biographical clues here. 🙂 In fact, I used to precede it with ‘Love Hurts’ so that you had two diversely miserable love stories together: however, I don’t think I could get away with singing ‘I’m young, I know…’ these days.
An older version with solo electric guitar.
Words and Music by David Harley, copyright 1986
Front tyre blew Tax overdue Picked up A parking fine or two
Gas bill trouble Rent is doubled You say “NOW what’s wrong with you?”
Dentures slipping Nervous twitch 17-year-itch
I’m underpaid and overweight So let’s go and celebrate
Who said life begins at 40?
Kids are listening Separate beds Bitter thoughts In separate heads
Kids are screaming Dogs are howling Milk gone bad We’re out of bread
So I leer at typists Wonder which Might scratch My seventeen year itch
I must have wasted So much time The other side Of 39
Monday morning Bus queue blues MOT Overdue
My head is bursting My eyes need testing Sorry That I snapped at you
Sorry Sorry Always saying sorry Always praying There might be some peace sometime The other side of 65 But would it be so hard to be Another aging divorcee?
Alison and I (among others) ran a folk club in London (at Jacksons Lane Community Centre, Highgate) for a while, and later on lived in the same part of Tottenham for several years. It’s only recently – when we haven’t met face-to-face in decades and now live in different counties – that we’ve started to collaborate on songs, though.
The tune is a variation on a tune that Jean Ritchie used to sing as ‘False Sir John’. I don’t know why, it just seemed to fit the words.
Vestapol (even the name has variant spellings, almost as many as the tune) has a fascinating (if slightly confusing) history. Henry Worrall (1825-1902), an artist and musician who taught guitar at the Ohio Female College, composed a guitar piece apparently inspired by the siege of Sebastopol (1854-1855) and sometimes called ‘The Siege of Sebastopol’ or ‘Sebastopol: Descriptive Fantasie’, or – according to the printout of the sheet music I have in front of me – just ‘Sebastopol’.
Sadly, I can’t read music – well, maybe if it’s simple enough that I can play it on recorder, but that’s about as far as I can go, so I don’t know how close that piece is to the tune I’m interpreting in this video. Compared to this version, played by Macyn Taylor on parlour guitar, not very. That said, this version, played by Brian Baggett “interpreted from the original manuscript…in collaboration with the Kansas Historical Society” is just about close enough to suggest that my version does derive ultimately from the older piece. As does the resemblance of the naming of the later piece, and, even more, the fact that both pieces use the same open D (D-A-D-F#-A-D) tuning, often referred to by blues musicians as ‘Vestapol’ or ‘Vastapol’ (or similar) tuning.
It’s worth noting at this point that Worrall also published an arrangement of a popular piece called ‘Spanish Fandango’ – which, though it’s not without charm, to my ear resembles a ‘real’ fandango rather less than ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ resembles the work of Václav Tomášek – which uses an open G tuning (D-G-D-G-B-D). While I’m not aware that Worrall’s ‘Fandango’ has had anything like the same popularity or influence among blues/ragtime/folk musicians that ‘Sevastopol’ has, it’s notable that this open G tuning is often referred to as ‘fandango’ tuning. And certainly Elizabeth Cotton, who also played ‘Vestapol’, had a very similar tune called ‘Spanish Flang Dang’.
But – returning to ‘Vestapol’ – how did a formal piece apparently intended for the genteel parlours of the US get to my genteel home office/recording studio in the Wild West of Cornwall as a blues-y, train-y, ragtime-ish, clawhammer picking piece?
Stefan Grossman, who put together a three-part video to teach his own version, kind of skates over the issue as barely explainable, though a contributor to a thread on Mudcat points out perfectly reasonably that blacks and whites worked together and blacks worked as servants in the homes of white people: “They heard, they liked, they learned.” And adapted, making the work of other musicians into something of their own. So by the time John Fahey recorded the tune he still called ‘The Siege of Sevastopol’, it had developed into something significantly different Worrall’s tune, and acquired words – Robert Wilkins’s ‘Poor Boy (a long way from home) and ‘Prodigal Son’, later kidnapped by the Rolling Stones.
In fact, I sometimes follow Grossman’s lead in combining ‘Vestapol’ and ‘Poor Boy’ – he was the first person I heard do that, back in the late 60s or early 70s – or tack it onto the end of one of my own songs as with ‘Highway Fever’ here. Or ‘Castles and Kings‘, but not available as a recording right now.
However, on this occasion I decided to quit while I was ahead and just do the instrumental. And hope that it doesn’t measure up too badly to the many fine musicians who’ve taken their own shots at this well-worn but well-loved music.
This is a very young, very bitter song. I was actually playing with it in Garageband recently as a guitar piece, but the words came back to haunt me. I think I may change them, but the arrangement has promise.
(Vocal is a bit ropey: heavy cold…)
Miles of air is all I need
Jab on the starter and pick up speed
Stand back lady and watch me feed my heels
Got to get you out of my head
There’s new juice keeping my motor fed
From today I’m the fastest thing on wheels
You’re birdlime baby
And you should know
You’re bad news baby
Everywhere you go
Harley aged 60-something having fun adding lead break to Harley aged 30 something. Clearly, the words have changed a bit over the years. Originally recorded on cassette sometime in the 80s, probably playing my ES175D copy or my Ovation Viper: the lead break was added with a Les Paul Special.
I rolled out my paper this morning to see what Lady Luck would say She said “Sorry boy, no joy: It’s just another rainy day…”
Slow down, Lady Luck: why d’ya turn your back on me? I never meant you any harm at all, but you really have your knife in me
Rolled out of bed this morning, in hopes to see some sun But a long cool woman put the freeze on me and the good times are dead and gone
Slow down, Lady Luck: lady, won’t you let me be? I never meant you any harm at all, but you really have your knife in me
I don’t mean to bring you down, I don’t mean to take you too deep But I’m bored and bad and on my own and I need me a place to sleep
I think I’ll point my feet at the highway and move a little further down the line
If my shoes get stuck maybe Lady Luck will let me go this time
Words & Music by David Harley, copyright 1975
There once existed a recording of this with some percussion. Long gone. More rock than blues, in a pastiche sort of way.
No, nothing to do with Dionne Warwick or the Gibb brothers.
Written back in the 80s, and turned up in my box of half-written songs today. The tune needs work, and the words have already changed a bit since the recording. And yes, it was intended for a female singer, but I don’t have one handy right now.
Look at you – you’re such a heartbreaker
You’ve not yet said a word that anyone has heard
You know that all you have to do is smile
To capture any male – I’ve never seen you fail
To captivate every man in miles
Look at you – you’re such a foxy lady
Your table manners won’t win prizes; it’s really not surprising
That you’ve got broth all down your bib
But all your male relations are stood at battle stations
With the Kleenex to wipe down that greasy chin
Look at you – you’re such a heartbreaker
I can’t turn my back for a minute and a half
Without your creating mess
You’re taking years off my life – your dad says “Leave her, she’s all right”
But if he cleaned up I might be more impressed
Look at you – you’re such a heartbreaker
If I’d as many men as you to give my kisses to
I wouldn’t have much reason to complain
You’re a pain sometimes, it’s true, but I’d be heartbroken too
To be without you now, it’s so plain